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‘Losing hope:’ Woman feeling re-victimized by Halifax police after reporting sexual assault

The young woman is frustrated with how a lead officer has questioned her and dealt with both her and her mother.

A Halifax woman is speaking out after she says police have re-victimized her during their investigation of her alleged sexual assault.

Zane Woodford / Metro

A Halifax woman is speaking out after she says police have re-victimized her during their investigation of her alleged sexual assault.

A young Halifax woman who told Halifax Regional Police (HRP) she was raped says invasive questioning, and a dismissive attitude by officers, is leading her to make an official complaint after she was made to feel “violated” all over again.

*Jessica, a woman in her early 20s, said she was sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend while she was passed out earlier this summer, and reported it to police a few days later.

After a constable took her initial statement, evidence was gathered from her house and Jessica met with a female officer in the Sexual Assault Investigation Team (SAIT) who brought her in for a video interview and has been the main contact for Jessica’s file.

Originally, Jessica said the SAIT officer offered her a blanket during her interview and was helpful, but eventually asked questions that made her uncomfortable - like whether a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) had taken pictures of Jessica’s injuries from the alleged sexual assault because they’d “be needed.”

“Avalon (Sexual Assault Centre) said (the officer) never should never asked you that, because the SANE nurse’s word should be good enough,” Jessica said during a recent interview, with her mother by her side.

Jessica said the SAIT officer also referenced lubricant found in Jessica’s room, and asked whether she had previously consented to a specific sexual act with her former boyfriend. Jessica said she had consented to it once in the past, but she didn’t want to do it again, and never agreed to anything that night as she was too intoxicated.

The officer also asked if she had said yes or no during the alleged assault, or if she tried to scream or pull away, to which Jessica said she couldn’t have said anything as she was passed out the whole time.

“I just feel violated just talking about it,” Jessica said.

Jessica says there have been no charges laid in her case yet, and when she’s called the SAIT officer for updates she rarely phones back. One time, Jessica’s mother said they were on speakerphone with the SAIT officer when when Jessica asked a question, and the officer said “What did I tell you last week?” in a dismissive tone.

“She’s allowed to ask that question 10,000 times until that officer can help her understand what’s going on,” Jessica’s mom said.

After Jessica’s mom said she confronted the SAIT officer on the phone about her tone, both women said the officer now won’t speak with Jessica’s mom.

“Yes, I got rude on the phone that day because of the line of questioning that she was re-victimizing my daughter - so of course as a mother I got angry,” Jessica’s mom said.

Jessica’s mom said they’ve also talked to the sergeant above the SAIT officer, who offered no options besides telling them to file a formal complaint and “snickered” when Jessica’s mom asked they be updated once a week on the case progress.

Although their HRP Victim’s Services worker has been very helpful and empathetic, Jessica said, she has been given very little details about the file and told Jessica she has never seen a case handled like this.

After weeks of no updates, Jessica and her mother said their concerns around Jessica’s safety haven’t been taken seriously even though the man who allegedly raped her knows her address, and Jessica said he’s broken into her home before.

“I’m just losing hope. I don’t want to do anything. I’m tired,” Jessica said quietly, wiping away tears in her eyes.

“We haven’t been able to get what we want to say out to anybody, because nobody’s listening,” her mom added.

Although the process has been “exhausting,” Jessica said an Avalon counselor told her it sounds like police are secondary-victimizing and shaming her, and offered to write a letter to go with Jessica’s official complaint against the SAIT officer and other officers they’ve spoken with expected to be filed Monday.

Const. Dianne Penfound of Halifax Regional Police said in an email on Friday the force’s “ultimate goal is for victims to know that they will not be judged and they will be treated with compassion, dignity and respect throughout the entire investigative process.” Penfound added she’d be forwarding Jessica’s concerns to SAIT.

EDITOR'S NOTE: *Name has been changed to protect the woman’s identity. As well, an earlier verison inadvertently left out the response by Halifax police at the bottom of the story. Metro regrets the error.

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